Management in India: Grow from an Accidental to a successful manager in the IT & knowledge industry

By Rahul Goyal
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  1. Whose Side Are You On?

About this book

Most managers are untrained and need a foundation of management thought processes and frameworks. The market has books that are very theory heavy and generalized, and lack a certain focus. Nothing seen so far has the right context and balance of management theory and real world practical information.

Written by Rahul Goyal, a top manager at an IT firm, this book is an easy-to-read map to help you navigate the journey of being a manager in the knowledge industry. It will increase your effectiveness in applying skills needed daily, like hiring, communicating, motivating and planning. Learn from examples that you can relate to, and theories explained in context.

The books starts with raising a number of questions that knowledge industry managers face everyday. Then it  gives detailed explanation of the roles and responsibilities of being a manager and maps the classic Herzberg’s ten managerial roles into today’s knowledge industry context. Next it focuses on the transition from being an individual contributor to a manager, the typical issues one faces and how to make it easier in this transition phase. The next chapter digs into what is required to be a manager and the behaviours required for being a manager in India.

We then dive into the key aspects of being a manager such as how to build a team and create team spirit, understanding the process of hiring and figuring out the adequate compensation for a new hire, managing the critical campus hiring process, and understanding what motivates a knowledge worker.

Then the book covers the basic motivation theories, explained in an Indian context. The book will get into the details of performance evaluation processes and the common pitfalls of the same. You will learn how to plan for personal effectiveness and an execution plan for delivery.

Finally, we look beyond the basics of managing and explore how a manager can grow. It’s easy to get lost in the daily hustleand bustle and forget the essentials that can take you past your current career level. We look through some simple dos’ and don’ts and keep growth in perspective while being a manager.

Publication date:
May 2012
Publisher
Packt
Pages
328
ISBN
9781849682626

 

Chapter 1. Whose Side Are You On?

Am I supposed to listen to people's personal problems?

He was out for a month due to injury; should he get the same bonus percentage as another guy?

How much time should I spend with my team?

I'm up to my ears with work, and Sameer, the key developer on the project, walks in with a problem of his own. What am I supposed to do?

My boss wants me to change the design we have already invested in, but I really don't agree with him. Should I fight against the change?

The guy looks good in technical interviews, but seems to have an attitude problem; should I still hire him?

I can stop this guy from leaving the company if I can promise him a promotion soon but I really don't think he deserves it right now, but again, I have a key accounts project that can use his skills.

How do I explain why somebody didn't get a raise?

Is it my job to explain why a layoff happened? After all, I didn't make that decision.

How do I motivate the team when they already know there is not going to be any pay hike this year?

We have just completed a long, tough project delivery. Everybody is looking for a break, but we have more work coming. How do I avoid a burnout?

These questions, and many more such questions, are what trouble managers today. Each and every question can be real and every individual manager will make a choice and go with it. How many such choices result in good business and improve the overall well-being of the team and the organization, will decide how successful a manager will turn out to be.

Being a manager brings with it lots of questions. Let's start with the most basic one.

What is a manager supposed to manage?

Let's look at what organizations ask for in a manager. A typical job description from one of the popular job portals includes the following:

  • Hands on

  • Expertise (in some technical or functional area)

  • Good communicator

  • Build and refine processes

  • Work in global teams

  • Plan and drive on-time delivery, following global processes

  • Analyze and monitor the business impact

  • Manage a team of 10-25 people

  • ...and on and on

So what is this company really looking for in a manager? Somebody who is hands-on technically, has expertise in some areas, is a good communicator, can build and manage people, work and co-ordinate across borders, build and refine processes, deliver on time, and monitor the business impact! In other words, they want a superman!

There isn't a more confusing job description than that of a manager.

What would this manager do on a daily basis? He can't come into work and say, "It's Monday, so I've got to focus on processes today, then Business Impact tomorrow". Can business impact wait until tomorrow?

So, what is a manager really supposed to manage? What do we mean by management?

The classical definition of management, as also found on Wikipedia, is as follows:

Management in all business areas and organizational activities are the acts of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal.

Resourcing encompasses the deployment and manipulation of human resources, financial resources, technological resources, and natural resources.

Let's break it down to some key words. Management is to:

  • Get people together to accomplish organization goals

  • Plan, get people, direct, control, use the resources

  • Deploy resources including people, money, machines, material

This definition still applies to any business, but it's a 30,000 feet view of management, and doesn't fully describe the functions of a manager in today's knowledge industry.

Applying this to today's knowledge industry, we see the following characteristics:

  • Plan: Work plan, prioritize, schedule, and delivery.

  • Staff: Get the right people.

  • Direct: People and resources based on a plan and react or pro-act to events.

  • Control: Whatever you can or need to control. Mainly, people and resources.

  • Resources: People — the most important resource.

  • Resources: Money — this is limited, most of which is spent on people.

  • Machines: Mostly simple and can't do much without people using them effectively.

  • Material: Mostly information, which is to be deciphered and used by your people.

Clearly, in the knowledge industry, you manage people and whatever affects people, because everything is linked to people and their performance. You manage people's work, their expectations, monitor their output, set the culture, get instructions, give instructions, reward people, respect people, punish people, hire people, fire people.

People! People! People!

People are the center of a manager's world.

Why? This is because, in the knowledge industry, people drive everything. They constitute a major part of the cost and the quality of work is reflected most by the quality of people.

Other hardware and machinery is a fraction of cost and are very reliable that they don't need as much management attention.

Now that we understand the definition of being a manager, let's look at the next question.

How hard can a manager's job be?

It's often a great pleasure to make jokes about managers, especially your own. Here are some:

Q: How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Three! Two to hold the ladder and one to screw it in the faucet.

Q: How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Don't know. Let me call a meeting to discuss it first.

Q: How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None, it's not their problem.

Jokes aside, most people don't have an idea of the challenges of being a manager, some managers included.

It's widely believed that one key aspect to being a manager is taking decisions. But how hard can decision making be? You can always take simple analytical decisions, that is, look at the available choices, evaluate the outcomes, and make the best choice. Right?

Unfortunately, it's never been so simple, and despite all the technology, it isn't about to become that simple. Let's look at a scenario.

Consider this: you manage a team of five developers and are working on an important deliverable that is due on the coming Friday. Everything is going as planned and you seem confident that you'll make it. You have kept the pressure on the team to keep working at feverish pace to definitely make it by Friday. Actually, you have a little buffer and you are targeting everything to finish by Thursday evening IST itself, which gives you a clear, one day buffer.

On Wednesday, you have your regular weekly meeting with your senior manager, who incidentally is based out of San Diego. You are all set to report the "All is Well" status and the meeting starts with, "Hey, we got to take care of this new issue".

While your manager explains some more details, your mind starts racing and the faces of your team members flash before you; how hard people worked and how you asked folks to cancel their vacation.

What do you do?

Would you say, "We have all been working really hard at this point in time, and we are really close. It would be a tragedy to divert our attention to something else and miss making the date we really wanted to"?

Are you going to be your management's man, and say, "Certainly, I'll take care of that! But the Project Hilo delivery will slip"?

It's important to understand that how you respond to this situation may depend on how you view yourself. Are you representing the management, and therefore the organization, to your team, or are you representing your team to the management and the rest of the organization?

Whose side are you on?

Various scenarios can be played out and which one is best-suited will depend on many aspects. Let's list some of those down:

  • Priority: The priority of the new task is certainly primary to decision-making, but priorities are not absolute and are as perceived. In most cases, your manager guides your priorities, which is where this conversation stands. It is true that your manager may set the priority, based on information from various sources, including you. However, the information your manager has about your team is always less than and not as current as what you will have. It is possible that your manager may set priorities in the absence of enough information around your project.

  • Personalities of players: It would also depend on the personalities of the people involved; are you an 'accommodating type' personality? Is your manager bullish and usually does not budge?

  • Communication skills of your manager and you: There is a lot that you want to say about the hard work and the heartbreak that looms over your team. Given a remote meeting, a lot of information needs to be conveyed with the right tone. Your manager also needs to have a good ear for listening to details and concerns.

  • Nature and history of the relationships that exists between you and your manager: Do you have a history of good decision-making and delivery of projects? Do you share a trust relationship with your manager?

  • It would depend on how much time you have to discuss this topic: Contentious issues take time to understand and sort out. Is there enough time to discuss this issue? Your manager perhaps allocated only a small amount of time, expecting this to be a straightforward conversation.

  • It would depend on how fruitful you think the conversation would be: Do you believe that your manager will be willing to listen to you and possibly change the decision?

  • It would depend on how much you personally put into the work: If you have happened to toil along with your team, you have a personal stake and can experience the pain first hand. This would be good motivation for you to push.

  • It would depend on how connected you are with the team and the effort being put into it: Are you well connected with your team? Can you feel the empathy?

In this one hour conversation, decisions may need to be taken and commitments may need to be made. Commitments will have an impact on you and several team members. Your decision-making skills will be tested. How empowered do you feel to be able to make the decisions?

A seemingly simple situation has many influences and dilemmas. As a manager, you are destined to face these dilemmas on a daily basis. Managerial decision-making depends on more than just the immediate facts of the task at hand. It's the entire gamut of influences that exist in your ecosystem. These influences are created by the organization in general and you in particular. There are so many things a manager is supposed to do.

At different points of the day and each day of the week, you'll end up playing different roles. Let's try to put together a framework for understanding the different managerial roles.

Henry Mintzberg, one of the foremost researchers on management, published a research paper describing the roles of a manager. This was widely acclaimed and added new understanding of managerial work at that point in time.

Mintzberg — 10 roles of a manager

Reference: The Nature of Managerial Work — Henry Mintzberg — 1973 — HarperCollins — US — ISBN — 9780060445560.

Mintzberg defined 10 roles that a manager plays. These roles are categorized into three categories:

Interpersonal

Informational

Decisional

Figurehead

Monitor

Entrepreneur

Leader

Disseminator

Disturbance handler

Liaison

Spokesperson

Resource allocator

  

Negotiator

While this research was published in 1973, the roles listed are still very relevant and provide a simple framework to understand managerial responsibilities. Let's explore the Mintzberg roles and apply them in context of today's knowledge industry.

Interpersonal roles

Interpersonal roles are the set of roles that a manager plays while interacting with his team and other people in the organization, as well as outside the organization.

The figurehead

A manager performs certain ceremonial and symbolic duties. In today's knowledge industry, far fewer ceremonial duties exist, as many of the functions have become automated and self-service through technology portals. Some continue to exist, such as the following:

  • Default representative of your organization: When people don't know whom to contact in a particular team, they'll find the manager.

  • Signing legal documents: For example, work contracts, third-party software usage agreements, service-level agreements.

  • Providing signoffs on various activities. For example, provide a sign off on a software module that needs to be delivered. Sign off on requirements documents that may come from another team or customer.

  • Verifying and approving timesheets.

  • Operational functions like approving leave applications and job offers to be rolled out.

Leader

The manager is the leader of the team. This is a rather large bucket of interpersonal behaviors; multiple behaviors will fall under this category:

  • Growing the team

  • Creating a good work environment for people to work in

  • Inspiring and motivating the team

  • Encouraging skill development for people in the team

  • Setting the basic culture and norms in the team

  • Setting examples for others to follow

  • Helping people plan careers

  • Keeping a long-term view of the team's well being and work towards that

A leader is one of the key roles that all managers play in the knowledge industry, and many people believe that this is the primary function of being a manager.

A leader, by definition, leads the way, sets the precedents for the organization, shows the light when the team needs direction, connects with people, and earns their respect so they follow willingly.

A leader nurtures the team and creates a healthy environment for it to prosper and grow.

Liaison

A manager creates and manages a network of external relationships. This is an extremely important role in today's interconnected world.

There was a time when systems and processes were smaller, simplistic, and independent in nature. Things have changed in the globalized world, where systems are large, complex, and interconnected. Changes in one place have ripple effects in different parts of the system. When your team is connected to the network of dependencies, you may create a change for others or you may be required to respond to a change created by someone else. A manager's liaison abilities will be exercised on every such occasion.

In a software development world, some examples would be:

  • Liaison with other teams, which may have a dependency on your output or where your team depends on their output; for example, software components that integrate with each other.

  • Liaison with teams that participate in the lifecycle of work. For example, product managers, account managers, customers, and customer support teams.

  • Liaison with customers and customer representative.

  • Liaison with press and other entities which showcase the organization or its work.

Interpersonal roles define your interactions with the people who matter to you and your team. As you grow as a manager, the importance of these roles grows even more.

Information processing roles

Let's look at the information processing roles that define how managers are required to deal with information.

Monitor

This one is a generally well-understood role. A manager needs to monitor the internal organization as well as gather relevant information from the rest of the organization:

  • Status of the work progress, issues faced

  • Deadlines met or missed

  • Monitor the external environment and watch out for changes which may impact the work

  • Status of dependencies

  • Monitor people and other resources

Some managers mistake this to be the primary role and drive through monitoring. They become status managers. Their primary function becomes getting statuses and delivering statuses.

The status meeting becomes the most important meeting of the week. Very soon, most important decisions will be taken during that meeting, as opposed to focused meetings across the week.

Status becomes the driver of work.

Many organizations spend way too much time tracking statuses and building monitoring systems. Current environments of large, complex, and interconnected work makes people worry about statuses too much.

Status, in itself, becomes significant work.

A manager needs to balance the monitoring with the real execution and build the trust that eliminates the need for excessive monitoring.

Disseminator

Much information lands up on the manager's plate for one reason, which is to disseminate, that is, to spread the information. The sources of this information can be internal or external. Some examples of information that a manager disseminates are as follows:

  • Overall progress within the team and those of dependencies

  • Issues that are of concern

  • Organizational changes

  • Changes in policies and guidelines

  • Message from the higher management

  • Organization goals and priorities

Disseminating information is an extremely important function for managers, as lack of correct information leads to people making assumptions. Inter-dependency in work also requires information to be available, so the alignment between different teams is within an adjustable range.

In today's world of e-mail and internal wikis, it has become much easier to disseminate information. There is often the problem of plenty and multiple sources of information.

One very powerful channel of information that every organization has is that of the grapevine. The grapevine has only become stronger over the years, as people have gotten more connected and information can travel faster. Also, teams are more distributed, which can lead to an information gap that is readily filled by the grapevine.

This has created a new kind of challenge for managers — that of finding a reliable source of information and keeping an adequate flow of information, so that teams don't rely on the grapevine and look towards their managers to get the information.

Spokesperson

A manager speaks for the team. This is an important responsibility and a privilege. There are various forums where you speak for your team, delivering the status information, and displaying new achievements or current problems being faced or risks to the deliveries.

The audience includes:

  • Groups outside the organization such as customers, partners, and vendors

  • In larger direct organizations like administration, your internal customers, HR, and so on

  • In peer groups and teams where you have interconnected work dependencies

  • Higher management to convey the position of the team on various issues

The information processing roles are increasingly becoming more important as the amount of information and the mode of information have changed and has been changing rapidly since the Internet became part of the corporate world.

In the Indian context, this role is very pronounced as the manager is the primary contact point for the teams in other parts of the globe. In many cases, the person on the other side (in the US, Europe, or elsewhere) never really meets or talks to anyone else but the manager of the team.

Decision-making roles

The decision-making roles are perhaps the most challenging of the roles. These make or break a manager's career and have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the entire team and the organization.

Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur (manager) doesn't come naturally to most people. In fact, there are several distinctions people make between entrepreneurs and managers.

So, who is an entrepreneur?

By definition, an entrepreneur is someone who believes in a new idea and assumes significant risk to implement that idea.

In business, we would assume that the entrepreneur does that to create new business opportunities by creating a better product or service or provide services with better quality and efficiency.

A manager, being responsible for the business delivery from his organization, has the opportunity to act as an entrepreneur to create new products and improve upon existing products and processes.

For example, you may run a product support organization, where the delivery may be measured by customer issues solved per week. You may already have a set of processes that guide the organization to deliver the service. Improving the processes involved, so that customers get a faster time for resolution and better quality of the solution, would be an entrepreneurial effort.

There's a risk that the manager presumes when new processes or systems will be introduced. The current systems may be negatively impacted. The manager will need to sell the idea and get the buy-in from the top management and his/her own team. The manager will need to develop the idea into one that can be implemented and work with other departments or teams to participate or facilitate.

A manager acts as an entrepreneur to design and create a change in the organization. For example:

  • Create innovations in the product. Add new creative features to the product or process improvements to increase overall productivity.

  • Future plans for the team in the short term and long term.

  • Innovate within the boundaries. For example, use Scrum methodology to manage work.

  • Manage the associated risks.

  • Sell the idea for new innovations within the team and outside it.

  • Nurture the new product or processes when these stabilize.

  • Advertise success or learn from failure.

Organizations today support and encourage innovation. In our fast moving world, governed by technology, no organization can choose to stay with the old one for too long. It is not the purview of a few to think of improvements. Every manager on the ground can and should be able to improve what they do today by creating new processes and products.

An MNC manager in India has a significant opportunity to be innovative and add new adaptations to the global processes, such that those processes can achieve the objectives and work in the local environment.

Disturbance handler

Any activity or event that disrupts or can potentially disrupt the normal flow of work can be termed as a disturbance. These can be big, like a political strike that brings down the city to its knees or smaller ones like key people unexpectedly taking a break due to family or medical issues. Disturbances can be long drawn, like the SARS (a deadly virus that spreads in the air from human-to-human) threat that created a fear of travel among people the world over or can be short-lived like key systems not being available.

Many disturbances can be proactively avoided by looking out for them as a matter of routine, and that is one reason why managers build networks and keep an eye on externally connected and dependent components of the system.

However, many of the disturbances show up as fire drills and will knock at the door at just the wrong time. You are expected to just work through those while making sure that impact on the business is as minimal as possible.

Some examples of disturbances are as follows:

  • Key employees leaving on short notice

  • Layoffs and the impact on morale of the existing team, besides the fact that others need to pick up extra work

  • Deviant employee behavior due to dissatisfied employees or people acting out their grudges

  • Larger policy changes

  • Larger organizational changes, like re-orgs and mergers

  • Managing negative circumstances like backlash from dissatisfied customers

Indian managers also get to play this role and manage many disturbances locally. Disturbances in India have their own nature, like political strikes. While you handle disturbances effectively and save any impact on the organization's business, make sure that you report the issue and the resolution to your management chain. Many managers do the hard work of managing the disturbances, but never create any visibility of the same with higher management. Your overseas managers must know the situation on the ground, the resolution, and the fact that you managed it well.

Resource allocator

This is another well-understood role. A manager is supposed to manage the allocation of resources to get the best productivity from the team.

Resources are mostly people, but also include hardware, software, network, help with expertise, and of course money.

A primary function and a role of the manager is to optimally deploy the available resources to deliver the results:

  • Create schedules and work plans. These could vary from a high level to a very detailed level. Plans are typically weekly or monthly or any duration in-between. The nature of planning depends on the nature of a project and a manager's comfort level with detailed planning.

  • Prioritize among multiple projects and demands for bandwidth.

  • Allocate other non-human resources such as machines, software licenses, and so on.

  • Set policies for sharing resources.

  • Manage shortfall by creative sharing or borrowing from somewhere else.

  • Allocate budgets for resource spending.

Re-plan

Managers need to update and re-plan as the work progresses. Given the flexible nature, highly people-dependent work, and ever-changing requirements, it has become harder to plan with reasonable accuracy. Instead, most managers plan out a reasonable amount of buffer that needs to be added to each task or milestone, such that the intermittent milestone dates aren't too far off from plan. Nobody complains if the work gets done earlier than planned, but a slip in the delivery date isn't taken with as much enthusiasm.

Negotiator

With the work becoming people-centric, the negotiator role is a key role to be played. Unlike machines, people seldom take exactly what is given to them. They either want more or want less. How much more or less given depends on the negotiation skills of the two parties.

Negotiation is an important art, as it impacts more than one person. If one person negotiates to get less work, the others will have to bear it. If one person negotiates to get more rewards, there will be less to go around for all the others.

Hence, although negotiation is a one-on-one activity, it must be viewed in the larger context of the team. A manager usually will:

  • Negotiate in larger organizations for work, delivery of work, and resource allocation

  • Negotiate the terms applicable for work to be done

  • Negotiate internally, within his/her team with different individuals on various subjects, technical and non-technical

  • Negotiate with team members on various topics, work allocation, vacation planning, and many other tasks

Negotiation should be distinguished from haggling or having your way. Negotiating with your management is not the same as negotiating with someone outside the organization. Don't keep pressing too hard to get your way. You may succeed a few times, but your manager may figure out your disposition and may block you out later in further situations, expecting a hard negotiation.

Summarizing the role-play

Although the roles listed may not be complete in today's scenario, and certainly have scope for more dimensions to be added, they do capture the large part of the role-play. More importantly, it goes on setting the expectation of multi role-play for a manager. Once a manager becomes aware of the multiple roles to be played, he can work on developing and sharpening the same. (Foot note: Mintzberg published another book, Managing in 2009 (ISBN978-0-273-70930-5), which goes into greater and finer grain details on managing.)

Every organization and situation will require one or more of the role-plays to be enhanced. For a new team being set up, the leadership and negotiator roles may be the most prominent ones. In a stable team, where people and processes are working well, the disseminator and resource allocator roles may be more prominent.

As a manager grows in the organization, the responsibilities including team size also grow. Overtime, there will be senior people in the team, even other managers who may be directly or indirectly reporting to you. A different leadership style will be required to manage a mature team. A more relaxed style of functioning and more open information sharing will be required. Senior people in the team are more like partners to you and are capable of running the business by themselves without much direction and monitoring.

An individual may find comfort in one role or another, based on his/her skills and personality. However, it is important that a manager be able to play most of the previously-mentioned roles. If you want to grow as a manager, you should find positions where your strength roles are leveraged the most. For example, there are several cases where people exclusively work as a manager in a start-up company. The moment they get acquired by a larger company, they look for an exit, despite being given top compensation.

 

What is a manager supposed to manage?


Let's look at what organizations ask for in a manager. A typical job description from one of the popular job portals includes the following:

  • Hands on

  • Expertise (in some technical or functional area)

  • Good communicator

  • Build and refine processes

  • Work in global teams

  • Plan and drive on-time delivery, following global processes

  • Analyze and monitor the business impact

  • Manage a team of 10-25 people

  • ...and on and on

So what is this company really looking for in a manager? Somebody who is hands-on technically, has expertise in some areas, is a good communicator, can build and manage people, work and co-ordinate across borders, build and refine processes, deliver on time, and monitor the business impact! In other words, they want a superman!

There isn't a more confusing job description than that of a manager.

What would this manager do on a daily basis? He can't come into work and say, "It's Monday, so I've got to focus on processes today, then Business Impact tomorrow". Can business impact wait until tomorrow?

So, what is a manager really supposed to manage? What do we mean by management?

The classical definition of management, as also found on Wikipedia, is as follows:

Management in all business areas and organizational activities are the acts of getting people together to accomplish desired goals and objectives efficiently and effectively. Management comprises planning, organizing, staffing, leading or directing, and controlling an organization (a group of one or more people or entities) or effort for the purpose of accomplishing a goal.

Resourcing encompasses the deployment and manipulation of human resources, financial resources, technological resources, and natural resources.

Let's break it down to some key words. Management is to:

  • Get people together to accomplish organization goals

  • Plan, get people, direct, control, use the resources

  • Deploy resources including people, money, machines, material

This definition still applies to any business, but it's a 30,000 feet view of management, and doesn't fully describe the functions of a manager in today's knowledge industry.

Applying this to today's knowledge industry, we see the following characteristics:

  • Plan: Work plan, prioritize, schedule, and delivery.

  • Staff: Get the right people.

  • Direct: People and resources based on a plan and react or pro-act to events.

  • Control: Whatever you can or need to control. Mainly, people and resources.

  • Resources: People — the most important resource.

  • Resources: Money — this is limited, most of which is spent on people.

  • Machines: Mostly simple and can't do much without people using them effectively.

  • Material: Mostly information, which is to be deciphered and used by your people.

Clearly, in the knowledge industry, you manage people and whatever affects people, because everything is linked to people and their performance. You manage people's work, their expectations, monitor their output, set the culture, get instructions, give instructions, reward people, respect people, punish people, hire people, fire people.

People! People! People!

People are the center of a manager's world.

Why? This is because, in the knowledge industry, people drive everything. They constitute a major part of the cost and the quality of work is reflected most by the quality of people.

Other hardware and machinery is a fraction of cost and are very reliable that they don't need as much management attention.

Now that we understand the definition of being a manager, let's look at the next question.

How hard can a manager's job be?

It's often a great pleasure to make jokes about managers, especially your own. Here are some:

Q: How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Three! Two to hold the ladder and one to screw it in the faucet.

Q: How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Don't know. Let me call a meeting to discuss it first.

Q: How many managers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None, it's not their problem.

Jokes aside, most people don't have an idea of the challenges of being a manager, some managers included.

It's widely believed that one key aspect to being a manager is taking decisions. But how hard can decision making be? You can always take simple analytical decisions, that is, look at the available choices, evaluate the outcomes, and make the best choice. Right?

Unfortunately, it's never been so simple, and despite all the technology, it isn't about to become that simple. Let's look at a scenario.

Consider this: you manage a team of five developers and are working on an important deliverable that is due on the coming Friday. Everything is going as planned and you seem confident that you'll make it. You have kept the pressure on the team to keep working at feverish pace to definitely make it by Friday. Actually, you have a little buffer and you are targeting everything to finish by Thursday evening IST itself, which gives you a clear, one day buffer.

On Wednesday, you have your regular weekly meeting with your senior manager, who incidentally is based out of San Diego. You are all set to report the "All is Well" status and the meeting starts with, "Hey, we got to take care of this new issue".

While your manager explains some more details, your mind starts racing and the faces of your team members flash before you; how hard people worked and how you asked folks to cancel their vacation.

What do you do?

Would you say, "We have all been working really hard at this point in time, and we are really close. It would be a tragedy to divert our attention to something else and miss making the date we really wanted to"?

Are you going to be your management's man, and say, "Certainly, I'll take care of that! But the Project Hilo delivery will slip"?

It's important to understand that how you respond to this situation may depend on how you view yourself. Are you representing the management, and therefore the organization, to your team, or are you representing your team to the management and the rest of the organization?

Whose side are you on?

Various scenarios can be played out and which one is best-suited will depend on many aspects. Let's list some of those down:

  • Priority: The priority of the new task is certainly primary to decision-making, but priorities are not absolute and are as perceived. In most cases, your manager guides your priorities, which is where this conversation stands. It is true that your manager may set the priority, based on information from various sources, including you. However, the information your manager has about your team is always less than and not as current as what you will have. It is possible that your manager may set priorities in the absence of enough information around your project.

  • Personalities of players: It would also depend on the personalities of the people involved; are you an 'accommodating type' personality? Is your manager bullish and usually does not budge?

  • Communication skills of your manager and you: There is a lot that you want to say about the hard work and the heartbreak that looms over your team. Given a remote meeting, a lot of information needs to be conveyed with the right tone. Your manager also needs to have a good ear for listening to details and concerns.

  • Nature and history of the relationships that exists between you and your manager: Do you have a history of good decision-making and delivery of projects? Do you share a trust relationship with your manager?

  • It would depend on how much time you have to discuss this topic: Contentious issues take time to understand and sort out. Is there enough time to discuss this issue? Your manager perhaps allocated only a small amount of time, expecting this to be a straightforward conversation.

  • It would depend on how fruitful you think the conversation would be: Do you believe that your manager will be willing to listen to you and possibly change the decision?

  • It would depend on how much you personally put into the work: If you have happened to toil along with your team, you have a personal stake and can experience the pain first hand. This would be good motivation for you to push.

  • It would depend on how connected you are with the team and the effort being put into it: Are you well connected with your team? Can you feel the empathy?

In this one hour conversation, decisions may need to be taken and commitments may need to be made. Commitments will have an impact on you and several team members. Your decision-making skills will be tested. How empowered do you feel to be able to make the decisions?

A seemingly simple situation has many influences and dilemmas. As a manager, you are destined to face these dilemmas on a daily basis. Managerial decision-making depends on more than just the immediate facts of the task at hand. It's the entire gamut of influences that exist in your ecosystem. These influences are created by the organization in general and you in particular. There are so many things a manager is supposed to do.

At different points of the day and each day of the week, you'll end up playing different roles. Let's try to put together a framework for understanding the different managerial roles.

Henry Mintzberg, one of the foremost researchers on management, published a research paper describing the roles of a manager. This was widely acclaimed and added new understanding of managerial work at that point in time.

Mintzberg — 10 roles of a manager

Reference: The Nature of Managerial Work — Henry Mintzberg — 1973 — HarperCollins — US — ISBN — 9780060445560.

Mintzberg defined 10 roles that a manager plays. These roles are categorized into three categories:

Interpersonal

Informational

Decisional

Figurehead

Monitor

Entrepreneur

Leader

Disseminator

Disturbance handler

Liaison

Spokesperson

Resource allocator

  

Negotiator

While this research was published in 1973, the roles listed are still very relevant and provide a simple framework to understand managerial responsibilities. Let's explore the Mintzberg roles and apply them in context of today's knowledge industry.

Interpersonal roles

Interpersonal roles are the set of roles that a manager plays while interacting with his team and other people in the organization, as well as outside the organization.

The figurehead

A manager performs certain ceremonial and symbolic duties. In today's knowledge industry, far fewer ceremonial duties exist, as many of the functions have become automated and self-service through technology portals. Some continue to exist, such as the following:

  • Default representative of your organization: When people don't know whom to contact in a particular team, they'll find the manager.

  • Signing legal documents: For example, work contracts, third-party software usage agreements, service-level agreements.

  • Providing signoffs on various activities. For example, provide a sign off on a software module that needs to be delivered. Sign off on requirements documents that may come from another team or customer.

  • Verifying and approving timesheets.

  • Operational functions like approving leave applications and job offers to be rolled out.

Leader

The manager is the leader of the team. This is a rather large bucket of interpersonal behaviors; multiple behaviors will fall under this category:

  • Growing the team

  • Creating a good work environment for people to work in

  • Inspiring and motivating the team

  • Encouraging skill development for people in the team

  • Setting the basic culture and norms in the team

  • Setting examples for others to follow

  • Helping people plan careers

  • Keeping a long-term view of the team's well being and work towards that

A leader is one of the key roles that all managers play in the knowledge industry, and many people believe that this is the primary function of being a manager.

A leader, by definition, leads the way, sets the precedents for the organization, shows the light when the team needs direction, connects with people, and earns their respect so they follow willingly.

A leader nurtures the team and creates a healthy environment for it to prosper and grow.

Liaison

A manager creates and manages a network of external relationships. This is an extremely important role in today's interconnected world.

There was a time when systems and processes were smaller, simplistic, and independent in nature. Things have changed in the globalized world, where systems are large, complex, and interconnected. Changes in one place have ripple effects in different parts of the system. When your team is connected to the network of dependencies, you may create a change for others or you may be required to respond to a change created by someone else. A manager's liaison abilities will be exercised on every such occasion.

In a software development world, some examples would be:

  • Liaison with other teams, which may have a dependency on your output or where your team depends on their output; for example, software components that integrate with each other.

  • Liaison with teams that participate in the lifecycle of work. For example, product managers, account managers, customers, and customer support teams.

  • Liaison with customers and customer representative.

  • Liaison with press and other entities which showcase the organization or its work.

Interpersonal roles define your interactions with the people who matter to you and your team. As you grow as a manager, the importance of these roles grows even more.

Information processing roles

Let's look at the information processing roles that define how managers are required to deal with information.

Monitor

This one is a generally well-understood role. A manager needs to monitor the internal organization as well as gather relevant information from the rest of the organization:

  • Status of the work progress, issues faced

  • Deadlines met or missed

  • Monitor the external environment and watch out for changes which may impact the work

  • Status of dependencies

  • Monitor people and other resources

Some managers mistake this to be the primary role and drive through monitoring. They become status managers. Their primary function becomes getting statuses and delivering statuses.

The status meeting becomes the most important meeting of the week. Very soon, most important decisions will be taken during that meeting, as opposed to focused meetings across the week.

Status becomes the driver of work.

Many organizations spend way too much time tracking statuses and building monitoring systems. Current environments of large, complex, and interconnected work makes people worry about statuses too much.

Status, in itself, becomes significant work.

A manager needs to balance the monitoring with the real execution and build the trust that eliminates the need for excessive monitoring.

Disseminator

Much information lands up on the manager's plate for one reason, which is to disseminate, that is, to spread the information. The sources of this information can be internal or external. Some examples of information that a manager disseminates are as follows:

  • Overall progress within the team and those of dependencies

  • Issues that are of concern

  • Organizational changes

  • Changes in policies and guidelines

  • Message from the higher management

  • Organization goals and priorities

Disseminating information is an extremely important function for managers, as lack of correct information leads to people making assumptions. Inter-dependency in work also requires information to be available, so the alignment between different teams is within an adjustable range.

In today's world of e-mail and internal wikis, it has become much easier to disseminate information. There is often the problem of plenty and multiple sources of information.

One very powerful channel of information that every organization has is that of the grapevine. The grapevine has only become stronger over the years, as people have gotten more connected and information can travel faster. Also, teams are more distributed, which can lead to an information gap that is readily filled by the grapevine.

This has created a new kind of challenge for managers — that of finding a reliable source of information and keeping an adequate flow of information, so that teams don't rely on the grapevine and look towards their managers to get the information.

Spokesperson

A manager speaks for the team. This is an important responsibility and a privilege. There are various forums where you speak for your team, delivering the status information, and displaying new achievements or current problems being faced or risks to the deliveries.

The audience includes:

  • Groups outside the organization such as customers, partners, and vendors

  • In larger direct organizations like administration, your internal customers, HR, and so on

  • In peer groups and teams where you have interconnected work dependencies

  • Higher management to convey the position of the team on various issues

The information processing roles are increasingly becoming more important as the amount of information and the mode of information have changed and has been changing rapidly since the Internet became part of the corporate world.

In the Indian context, this role is very pronounced as the manager is the primary contact point for the teams in other parts of the globe. In many cases, the person on the other side (in the US, Europe, or elsewhere) never really meets or talks to anyone else but the manager of the team.

Decision-making roles

The decision-making roles are perhaps the most challenging of the roles. These make or break a manager's career and have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the entire team and the organization.

Entrepreneur

Being an entrepreneur (manager) doesn't come naturally to most people. In fact, there are several distinctions people make between entrepreneurs and managers.

So, who is an entrepreneur?

By definition, an entrepreneur is someone who believes in a new idea and assumes significant risk to implement that idea.

In business, we would assume that the entrepreneur does that to create new business opportunities by creating a better product or service or provide services with better quality and efficiency.

A manager, being responsible for the business delivery from his organization, has the opportunity to act as an entrepreneur to create new products and improve upon existing products and processes.

For example, you may run a product support organization, where the delivery may be measured by customer issues solved per week. You may already have a set of processes that guide the organization to deliver the service. Improving the processes involved, so that customers get a faster time for resolution and better quality of the solution, would be an entrepreneurial effort.

There's a risk that the manager presumes when new processes or systems will be introduced. The current systems may be negatively impacted. The manager will need to sell the idea and get the buy-in from the top management and his/her own team. The manager will need to develop the idea into one that can be implemented and work with other departments or teams to participate or facilitate.

A manager acts as an entrepreneur to design and create a change in the organization. For example:

  • Create innovations in the product. Add new creative features to the product or process improvements to increase overall productivity.

  • Future plans for the team in the short term and long term.

  • Innovate within the boundaries. For example, use Scrum methodology to manage work.

  • Manage the associated risks.

  • Sell the idea for new innovations within the team and outside it.

  • Nurture the new product or processes when these stabilize.

  • Advertise success or learn from failure.

Organizations today support and encourage innovation. In our fast moving world, governed by technology, no organization can choose to stay with the old one for too long. It is not the purview of a few to think of improvements. Every manager on the ground can and should be able to improve what they do today by creating new processes and products.

An MNC manager in India has a significant opportunity to be innovative and add new adaptations to the global processes, such that those processes can achieve the objectives and work in the local environment.

Disturbance handler

Any activity or event that disrupts or can potentially disrupt the normal flow of work can be termed as a disturbance. These can be big, like a political strike that brings down the city to its knees or smaller ones like key people unexpectedly taking a break due to family or medical issues. Disturbances can be long drawn, like the SARS (a deadly virus that spreads in the air from human-to-human) threat that created a fear of travel among people the world over or can be short-lived like key systems not being available.

Many disturbances can be proactively avoided by looking out for them as a matter of routine, and that is one reason why managers build networks and keep an eye on externally connected and dependent components of the system.

However, many of the disturbances show up as fire drills and will knock at the door at just the wrong time. You are expected to just work through those while making sure that impact on the business is as minimal as possible.

Some examples of disturbances are as follows:

  • Key employees leaving on short notice

  • Layoffs and the impact on morale of the existing team, besides the fact that others need to pick up extra work

  • Deviant employee behavior due to dissatisfied employees or people acting out their grudges

  • Larger policy changes

  • Larger organizational changes, like re-orgs and mergers

  • Managing negative circumstances like backlash from dissatisfied customers

Indian managers also get to play this role and manage many disturbances locally. Disturbances in India have their own nature, like political strikes. While you handle disturbances effectively and save any impact on the organization's business, make sure that you report the issue and the resolution to your management chain. Many managers do the hard work of managing the disturbances, but never create any visibility of the same with higher management. Your overseas managers must know the situation on the ground, the resolution, and the fact that you managed it well.

Resource allocator

This is another well-understood role. A manager is supposed to manage the allocation of resources to get the best productivity from the team.

Resources are mostly people, but also include hardware, software, network, help with expertise, and of course money.

A primary function and a role of the manager is to optimally deploy the available resources to deliver the results:

  • Create schedules and work plans. These could vary from a high level to a very detailed level. Plans are typically weekly or monthly or any duration in-between. The nature of planning depends on the nature of a project and a manager's comfort level with detailed planning.

  • Prioritize among multiple projects and demands for bandwidth.

  • Allocate other non-human resources such as machines, software licenses, and so on.

  • Set policies for sharing resources.

  • Manage shortfall by creative sharing or borrowing from somewhere else.

  • Allocate budgets for resource spending.

Re-plan

Managers need to update and re-plan as the work progresses. Given the flexible nature, highly people-dependent work, and ever-changing requirements, it has become harder to plan with reasonable accuracy. Instead, most managers plan out a reasonable amount of buffer that needs to be added to each task or milestone, such that the intermittent milestone dates aren't too far off from plan. Nobody complains if the work gets done earlier than planned, but a slip in the delivery date isn't taken with as much enthusiasm.

Negotiator

With the work becoming people-centric, the negotiator role is a key role to be played. Unlike machines, people seldom take exactly what is given to them. They either want more or want less. How much more or less given depends on the negotiation skills of the two parties.

Negotiation is an important art, as it impacts more than one person. If one person negotiates to get less work, the others will have to bear it. If one person negotiates to get more rewards, there will be less to go around for all the others.

Hence, although negotiation is a one-on-one activity, it must be viewed in the larger context of the team. A manager usually will:

  • Negotiate in larger organizations for work, delivery of work, and resource allocation

  • Negotiate the terms applicable for work to be done

  • Negotiate internally, within his/her team with different individuals on various subjects, technical and non-technical

  • Negotiate with team members on various topics, work allocation, vacation planning, and many other tasks

Negotiation should be distinguished from haggling or having your way. Negotiating with your management is not the same as negotiating with someone outside the organization. Don't keep pressing too hard to get your way. You may succeed a few times, but your manager may figure out your disposition and may block you out later in further situations, expecting a hard negotiation.

Summarizing the role-play

Although the roles listed may not be complete in today's scenario, and certainly have scope for more dimensions to be added, they do capture the large part of the role-play. More importantly, it goes on setting the expectation of multi role-play for a manager. Once a manager becomes aware of the multiple roles to be played, he can work on developing and sharpening the same. (Foot note: Mintzberg published another book, Managing in 2009 (ISBN978-0-273-70930-5), which goes into greater and finer grain details on managing.)

Every organization and situation will require one or more of the role-plays to be enhanced. For a new team being set up, the leadership and negotiator roles may be the most prominent ones. In a stable team, where people and processes are working well, the disseminator and resource allocator roles may be more prominent.

As a manager grows in the organization, the responsibilities including team size also grow. Overtime, there will be senior people in the team, even other managers who may be directly or indirectly reporting to you. A different leadership style will be required to manage a mature team. A more relaxed style of functioning and more open information sharing will be required. Senior people in the team are more like partners to you and are capable of running the business by themselves without much direction and monitoring.

An individual may find comfort in one role or another, based on his/her skills and personality. However, it is important that a manager be able to play most of the previously-mentioned roles. If you want to grow as a manager, you should find positions where your strength roles are leveraged the most. For example, there are several cases where people exclusively work as a manager in a start-up company. The moment they get acquired by a larger company, they look for an exit, despite being given top compensation.

 

The mai-baap manager


The Indian manager has a unique role to play, that of mai-baap (mother-father, that is, parents). Many team members also expect the manager to play almost a parental role. I, personally, have had people walk into my office and open up with their family and personal issues, as personal as spouse abuse and divorce. Some of the expectations were to simply open up and lighten their hearts, perhaps to explain the stress they were going through, which may have had a dent on productivity, or perhaps to get advice from someone who has seen more of the world. This will certainly not happen in the western world.

A manager, in the Indian context, may have to bear the expectations of a guide and a philosopher.

Sometimes, managers can also become like mai-baap, and behave like parents. They indulge in probing team members on personal matters and throw in the free advice. They form opinions about people based on what they hear about the employee's personal life and not just based on the quality of work done.

Many a times, there may be conversations which are not that personal, like someone contemplating higher studies, or a change in career, or getting involved in volunteer activity, sometimes even life goals like starting their own company one day, or going on a world tour on a bike.

It's perfectly fine to hear people out but be discreet before you give them your opinion on such matters and whether you can support something like that or not, from an organizational perspective.

Sometimes managers tend to get the idea that they control and impact every aspect of an employee's life and behave like a mai-baap. Good advice to such managers is to not behave like a parent. Remember your boundaries and stay away from personal matters of others in the organization. While you have to hear people out sometimes, never initiate or encourage a very personal conversation. As smart as you may be, you aren't qualified to handle it and from an organizational perspective, you are better off not knowing those details. There isn't anything you are supposed to do about it.

All said and done, there is an expectation of a mai-baap role to be played.

 

Visualizing the managerial model


"A picture is worth a thousand words", as clichéd as it sounds, also remains true. Visualizing is a great way of putting information in perspective. Decision-making becomes so much quicker once you visualize something. Our minds are perhaps designed to work with visual information.

When we operate in any environment, we have the following perspectives:

  • A model of how and where in the scheme of things we stand

  • A model of how things work in a given model

  • What contributions we have to make and what contributions others in the ecosystem should be making

  • The way we interpret the environment guides the way we process information

  • The way we process information will guide the actions that we take

Here are some of the models for being a manager.

The conduit

Managing is a bridging role. A great way of visualizing your role is by using a conduit analogy. A conduit is a channel, a delivery mechanism, or a means to transmit something. Let's explore:

A manager's role can be visualized as a conduit. What your team sees is highly dependent on you, the conduit. You are the primary (not the only) source of information, priority, nature of work, and philosophy for your team. How much of an organization and a management's philosophy is passed on to your team, will heavily depend on you.

On the other side of the conduit are your manager and the rest of management. What your manager sees of your team is highly dependent on you, the conduit. The effectiveness, productivity, and well being of the team depend on the conduit.

The conduit (you) has the ability to color the picture in any shade; how big or small and also control the view of the picture to smaller or bigger. The conduit doesn't need to be uniform and can be a funnel. The conduit can control the flow of content in either direction. Here's how you can visualize the forms of a conduit:

What flows through the conduit:

  • Work content and priorities for the team, as defined by higher management.

  • Work content and directions may need to be elaborated and broken down into a level of detail that suits the execution.

  • Monitoring and status information about the team, as reported by you to the higher management.

  • General information about the organization and external information to the organization.

  • Cultural influences and positioning on various aspects of managing.

  • Rewards to you and the team.

  • Visibility of the work being done: In remote teams, this channel is very important. At the same time, today's networked systems help create visibility outside of this channel.

The rest of the organization is all around you and influences everyone in the picture. You, the conduit, may have a change of shape and flow of matters based on pressure/influence/expectation from the environment around you. Your team may have multiple channels of information and cultural influences due to the organization around them. The upper management may be forced to share more information, rewards, and work based on how the rest of the organization is working.

The conduit model does not mean that the manager has no power, or he/she isn't a thinking being. The manager controls being a conduit and hence holds great power. Controlling the flow, twisting, coloring, translating, and enhancing the work, culture, and rewards is a very empowering position.

The conduit also serves as a reminder of the fact that the power of a manager depends on the power of the two sides. A good team and a good upper management are both necessary for a manager to contribute.

The hierarchy or leader of the pack

Most people tend to think of a manager primarily as a leader and in a hierarchy, perhaps an influence from the most powerful form of organizing, the military. The verbal communication reflects that too, for example, "20 people under me". The growth path and designations also match this expectation; the first designation is Software Engineer, then Senior Engineer, then Project Lead, and then Manager. The visual is that of a reporting herirarchy. Most companies have an organization chart displayed on internal portals that support this vision of a manager:

It is indeed true that leadership is the key to being a manager. A mindset of responsibility and fronting the organization helps shape many other behaviors of a manager.

Unfortunately, the hierarchical view promotes a sense of superiority in managers and they find themselves at odds with today's reality.

The hierarchy is the fundamental representation of authority and responsibility and displays the relationships between people.

While looking at the chart, one must remember:

  • The manager is not smarter than everybody in the levels below

  • The manager doesn't have to control ALL that happens under him/her

  • The manager is responsible for the delivery of work being done by people in the hierarchy

  • The manager is responsible for facilitating the people in the hierarchy to perform optimally

  • The manager's authority is not absolute over the people in the hierarchy

The leader should view his/her immediate organization as part of the larger organization and understand that the leader of the smaller organization is also being led. If we increase the scope of the visual, we'll see the following figure:

In today's knowledge industry, the leadership isn't limited to the manager, and the team members are capable of providing leadership in various aspects. For example, it is very likely that the technical leadership in the team or liaison leadership may come from different members of the team. The manager becomes more of a focal point of the system, managing different aspects of his/her organization.

The visual can be flipped on its side and this is how it'll look:

The larger organization will look similar to the following diagram:

The system now looks like more of a hub and spoke model rather than a hierarchical one and is more applicable in the knowledge industry. The manager is really in the centre of the team he/she is managing while connected to the larger hub. There may be lateral connections between hubs as well, leading to a complex network structure and placing the manager not only at the centre of his/her own hub, but also connected to and hence being influenced, and in turn influencing, other parts of the organization.

The orchestra conductor visual

Some people liken the manager's role to be similar to that of an orchestra conductor, as displayed in the following figure:

The orchestra conductor isn't the expert at every instrument, but is responsible for setting them in action, at the right time and at the right intensity. The orchestra conductor has a larger picture of the overall score and the overall execution plan. If anything goes wrong, the orchestra conductor has the best chance of course correcting.

The model works in certain cases in today's knowledge industry. The team members are typically highly skilled in their trade, just like the musicians in the orchestra piece. Most require only minimal direction to complete their task and have the maturity to work with other people in the team. There may be multiple small teams with different expertise. They need to be in sync with each other and play their part. Finally, all of them are required to make the score complete.

However, this model works only if the team has all members with high expertise and maturity. High technology and highly experienced team managers can potentially work in this model.

This model doesn't fit in many ways too, for example, today's manager's job is always changing and isn't a very well laid out plan. In fact, there's hardly any plan that doesn't change. The model also ignores the larger organization picture and the networking required to work in today's industry. Hence this model is only partially applicable and only in very specific situations.

 

Some questions answered


Here are responses to the questions posted at the beginning of the chapter. Let's see if your thoughts match mine:

Q: Am I supposed to listen to people's personal problems?

A: Not exactly. You may listen, but don't necessarily have to opine and certainly don't need to resolve.

Q: He was out for a month due to injury; should he get the same bonus percentage as another guy?

A: Evaluate the overall contributions for the bonus period as the primary guide to deciding the bonus percentage. Use standard organizational policies to decide the bonus amount. Don't worry too much about a month gone due to injury, another person who may be healthy may come to office but produce precious little.

Q: How much time should I spend with my team?

A: As much as you can. You are a model for your team and always take center stage.

Q: I'm up to my ears with work, and Sameer, the key developer on the project, walks in with a problem of his own? What am I supposed to do?

A: Listen to him. If you are in the middle of something and don't want to be interrupted, ask him if his discussion can wait for a little bit. If not, at least listen to him for a few minutes and decide if further discussion can wait. This is assuming that Sameer isn't a habitual walk-in with trivial problems.

Q: My boss wants me to change the design we have already invested in, but I really don't agree with him. Should I fight against the change?

A: First of all, try to understand the reason behind the requested change. Voice your disagreement with your boss's request and set up a discussion. Most managers will not shy away from a good technical discussion. On your side, be open to understand the perspective of the other side. You have to be able to voice your opinions and stand by them. That's part of your job description.

Q: The guy looks good in technical interviews, but seems to have an attitude problem. Should I still hire him?

A: Probe your opinion a little bit more. Do you think the candidate's personality is a detriment to the job function? Will it fit into the organization and team culture? In the end, respect how you feel too.

Q: I can avoid this guy leaving the company if I can promise him a promotion soon, but I really don't think he deserves it right now? But again, I have a key account project that can use his skills.

A: Never buckle under a threat of someone leaving. Attrition is part of life and it's better to deal with it rather than promoting someone you don't believe in. The cost of having a person in a wrong position can be very high.

Q: How do I explain why somebody didn't get a raise?

A: Well, you must have a reason why someone did not get a raise when you took that decision. Explain it. Even if you did not decide the raise, you are still responsible to explain it to your team member.

Q: Is it my job to explain why a layoff happened? After all, I didn't make that decision.

A: Layoffs are sensitive. Spend some time with your manager and HR and figure out what to say and how. Yes, it is your job to explain, even if it's not your decision. You represent higher management to your team members.

Q: How do I motivate the team when they already know there is not going to be any pay hike this year?

A: Money is only one of the factors that impact motivation. Look for other factors that can appeal to the people and get them motivated. For example, working on new technology may be very motivating for some or a new customer facing role for another person.

Q: We have had a long, tough project delivery just completed. Everybody is looking for a break, but we have more work coming. How do I avoid a burnout?

A: Work on a detailed plan to know exactly how much the pressure is. Take it to your management and discuss adding more bandwidth and perhaps reducing the scope of work. On the other side, work with your team members on the plan and make them party to the planning process. Seek ways to optimize.

 

Summary


If there's one thing that is true about being a manager, it's the multiplicity of everything and the variety of everything. No two managers have the same challenge or the same prescription of the problems.

To be able to perform well as a manager in the organization, you need to understand that there are multiple roles that you are expected to play. The nature of business and organization culture will demand that some roles are primary and more valued than others. You may need to understand the different systems and players within the organization that are essential to align with in order to successfully play these roles. You will need to work on these competencies and develop skills required to succeed in the role.

And finally, you need to watch out for when the priority of a role changes.

That being said, if your organization has trusted you to be a manager, you certainly have many of the required qualities necessary to be a manager. The important factor is to continue to enhance these key qualities and grow as a manager.

Being a manager is a journey like no other; it's like Alice in wonderland, Slumdog Millionaire, and Terminator 3 all rolled into one.

In the following chapters, we'll explore several other key aspects of being a manager and unravel some facts and some myths, so you can form your own opinions and get a larger understanding of the bends in the river ahead.

 

References


The Nature of Managerial Work — Henry Mintzberg — 1973 — HarperCollins — US — ISBN — 9780060445560.

Managing in 2009 (ISBN978-0-273-70930-5).

About the Author

  • Rahul Goyal

    Rahul Goyal is an accomplished manager with a rich experience of nearly two decades in the software industry. He began his career at UBICS, Bangalore as a programmer working on e-mail systems in India. He started managing people very early in his career and honed his skills in Bangalore, India, and then in Silicon Valley, USA working for Oracle Corporation. He now works as Director of Engineering at Intuit India. Rahul finds management in everything, such as a game of soccer or a line of ants carrying food or his two sons, sometimes in a tussel for the TV remote or suprisingly co-operating to clean their room. While working at Oracle, he went to IIM, Bangalore to get executive management education in general management. He is an avid reader and also writes a blog on management which can be found at http://rxgoyal.blogspot.com. He enjoys spending his spare time with family and friends or at the course playing golf.

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